UFC 249 AfterMMAth (Back With A Bang!)
The last time we sat down to watch some MMA action, it was March 14th, as UFC did their utmost to keep the sport going. Under the relevant limitations, they held an event with no audience and if I recall correctly, only 200 people in attendance, including all professionals required for conducting and broadcasting the event. Eight weeks went by, and normally, that won't count as much. But I don't remember eight weeks going by without MMA, and that includes times when we "only" had a PPV once a month and that's it. Perhaps I'm wrong, but these past two months felt like a year... More on that later.
Let's jump right to my picks. Then, we'll chat about this, that and the other.
For your reference, my picks:
On the one hand, I don't care much for Hardy. On the other hand, I'm not sure what to say about De Castro. I was a little excited in the beginning, when it seemed like Yorgan had Hardy's number, with some brilliant combos and good leg kicks. Then, apparently the big fella from Cape Verde injured himslef and... stopped fighting. Next.
0 for 1
This fight had all the hype behind it and, man did it deliver! Stephens started the action with hard, accurate strikes, an onslaught of vicious leg kicks and simply put, looked fantastic. He appeared to be in great physical shape and the right mindset for this fight, and the broadcast crew were right to bring up that Gilbert Melendez fight, in the context of the brutal leg attack. Towards the end of the first round, Kattar seemed to finally settle down and return fire with more poise. This doesn't take anything away from Jeremy's game. Calvin came back from the break with laser focus. Calm and collected, he started piecing combinations together with really impressive precision. Clean technique. This round and a half of MMA was the best reminder of that thing we were craving these past two months. To end the fight, Calvin landed a great elbow that sent Stephens to the ground and the fat lady started singing. WHAT a fight.
1 for 2
It took me longer to spell Rozenstruik correctly, than it took Ngannou to finish him. There's not much to say, in terms of summary of a 20 seconds fight. Just to stand up and be impressed, once more, with the power of the predator. I for one, am convinced that once Stipe and DC will conclude their business, Francis will hold UFC gold.
2 for 3
For just under two full rounds I was thrown back to the good old WEC days. Dominick Cruz is one of the select group of fighters, who got me hooked on MMA. The reason, not surprisingly, was that movement. They say this about a few fighters, that they move in an awkward and/or unpredictable way. None of them move like Cruz. The first round was competitive. I did give it to Henry, but Cruz moved well, albeit taking some leg kicks. Cejudo, for the most part, didn't fall into the trap of charging recklessly, which would've been perfect for Cruz, but patiently turned to face him and kept his energy for when he needed it. Dominick found some success, especially with some well-timed counters. He did move less in the second round, either due to the leg kicks or as part of adjusting his game plan. The fight was progressing with a slight edge to Henry, until he landed that elbow. More on that later on.
3 for 4
Trevor Whittman is one of my favorite MMA people. I like hearing him comment on fights, when they hand him the mic, I like listening to him give instructions in the corner, and I enjoy watching the products of his work. Justin Gaethje, with every fight, kind of kicks the "meat-head" label that was erroneously attached to his name. Call it maturing, call it training, call it what you want. Just bring it. Yes, he still takes some unnecessary shots, but man, how much fun is it to watch this guy fight? I picked Tony with my heart, as I love this guy and I honestly think he was done wrong by the UFC, but I do love me some Gaethje. Justin fought the perfect fight against the most dangerous opponent in his career, and did that with style and composure. First two rounds at full volume, taking a note from his coach, he settled for landing first, rather than trying to take Tony's head off every time. It was a one way street. Not in the sense that Tony did nothing. He did. But it was never in doubt, who was winning this fight.
3 for 5
After two months without MMA, I care less about these picks, but I got the 50%+ and I'll take it.
There's a new interim champion in town. 7 fights, 9 bonuses... let that piece of stat sink in. I absolutely loved Gaethje's response to the belt, on two levels. One is the fact that he refuses to recognize it as a real title. He sets the bar for himself, unwilling to rest just because Dana decorated him. And two, because we saw what happened to a certain interim title holder, who was also involved in this fight. Much like he does in the cage, Justin marches forward toward a goal that he would put his body on the line to achieve. That attitude carried him past rough losses to Poirier and Alvarez (no shame in those, of course) and all the way to being considered a rightful title contender. As in, for the real deal. I do see him posing difficulties to Khabib. The Dagastany is hittable, and having the wrestling skills that he does, Justin - with the help of his coaches - should be able to find the openings and capitalize on them. Tony's legendary chin withstood this power for close to 25 minutes. Of course, Khabib didn't give us any reason to doubt his, but save Conor (who's wrestling is not on the same level as Justin's), I don't think we saw it get tested like Gaethje possibly can. This matchup is very interesting, and I'm sure we will be reading and hearing about it for the next few months.
Henry Cejudo announces his retirement at the end of the fight. Thank you, Henry. I honestly appreciate you, and hope you get what you deserve. Also, if Cejudo stays retired, perhaps this wonderful Bantamweight division can go back to some merit-based bookings.
Tony Ferguson got the shaft... You saw above that I am not bitter towards Gaethje, and in fact, I'm excited to see what's next from the current interim champ. But with him winning, I guess we can safely put that Khabib/Tony fight to its resting place... Justin is next, after that - depending on the outcome - Conor is a very likely name. If Gaethje beats Khabib, we could be looking at a rematch. Any way you slice it, we're likely looking at Tony (35 years old) watching these guys fight for the next two years. Tony is not known for inactivity (hell, he took this fight) and who knows... who knows... Missed opportunities much? Tony was healthy for 229... he never did lose his interim belt, he was riding the most impressive win streak in LW history and somehow... never got the nod. I honestly don't know how that happens.
And still, referees and judges... Donald Cerrone came to work, trying to shut the critics up (and likely more than all - his inner critic). He fought a very good fight against Pettis, and although it was by no means a land-slide, he should've got the win. But perhaps the judges were experiencing some flu-like symptoms...
Dominick Cruz deserved a little better... was this outrageous? no. Was it an early stoppage? I think so, yes. You see many fighters get back up to their feet to protest a stoppage. Many of them do so, on wobbly legs, trying to wrestle a ref or hold themselves up by grabbing the fence. Dominick stood up, fully aware, completely alert and ready to go. To me, this is an indication that these 11 shots that people are so impressed with, didn't faze him. With two seconds on the clock, I'd have thought that a legend of that caliber would get a break. We've seen plenty of fighters get it, in much worse situations.
One last piece of business is about holding MMA events in general. This may make some people angry, but I honestly think that, after the initial scare which all society experienced, MMA events could and should have continued. From the get go, the blueprint was clear. Gat fighters and all attendants tested, keep them isolated as much as reasonably possible, maintain the rules that reduces chances of infection, and go on. These are the rules we are all following (willingly or not). I hope that nothing changes the path we're on, and we will see MMA events on a regular basis, including international fighters being allowed to travel and train.
Well. This was UFC249. Let's look at
Performance of the night:
Justing Gaethje Finishing Tony Ferguson:
Francis Ngannou finishing Jairzinho Rozenstruik:
Fight of the night:
Tony Ferguson Vs Justing Gaethje:
Jeremy Stephens Vs Calvin Kattar: